“There are general feelings of hostility and hopelessness in prisons today and it is getting worse with overcrowding. . Being in prison is the final ride downhill unless one can resist the things around him and learn to function in a society which he no longer has any contact with. Arts programs for many of us may be the final salvation of our minds from prison insanity. It’s contact with the best of the human race. It is something that says that we, too, are still valuable.”
– a prison inmate
The Brown Piglet also known as Jody Armijo, spent a total of 11 years in prison and jail when he was younger-7 years in prison and the rest-jail time.
He had been fighting and getting into trouble much of his life and when he was released from prison, he came out angrier and meaner than ever. He had been through anger management programs, NA, AA, every sort of ‘helping’ program that the prisons and halfway houses offered but nothing helped. He just got worse. Only when he got stabbed and nearly died, did he even begin to think about changing his life.
When I first met him, he was cutting wood
and working as a carpenter, living on the edge, just trying his best not to get in trouble again.He never talked to me about prison then but he brought some art work he had done…very pale religious drawings that he had drawn on handkerchiefs. The Hispanic inmates often make these in prison-they are called Paños and are often very beautiful.
His drawings, mostly of crosses and the Virgin of Guadalupe were very pale………he didn’t have many art supplies but he loved to draw…he was living on the minimum though and he spent far more time drinking than on his art.
I have a close friend, Jonathan Warm Day Coming, a highly acclaimed artist from from Taos Pueblo. Jonathan told me that during his 20s, he had often gotten into trouble–he was a heavy drinker and worked at odd jobs, just making enough money to buy more alcohol.
He had tried to get into detox programs but nothing had been available at the times he was able to go. Then, one day he began to paint -his mother had been a well known artist so he had some background for art. He said “I just closed the door” and he painted and he quit drinking.
I wondered if this same principle could work for Jody. I started buying him more art supplies–more colored pens and pencils and he began to paint and draw more and more,
using more colors and detail…
He painted on wood and he continued to make the Paños /handkerchiefs
And he began to change as he painted and drew: he was happier, his anger came up less and less, he drank less, he was much more confident and he was able to express himself much better. He had once described himself as just a “gofer” but he had become an artist and a craftsman, building gates…
and working in stone also….
He began doing wood carving projects
and painting cow skulls..he was going far beyond what he had thought were his limitations-he not only lacked confidence and belief in himself, he had been kicked by a horse and his right hand had been badly mangled…he had thought that he would never be able to draw again..
Some of his work was exhibited in a store in Taos, NM and also at a benefit for our documentary film, THE LIGHT IN THE SHADOW….Of course caring, encouragement and love has had a whole lot to do with the changes he has been able to make. I have heard a theory that says “I am who you say I am” and a quote which says: “If there is love there is safety and if there is safety, there is a greater potential for change.”
And there is also the life changing significance of finding your unique gift and using it…. …which I wrote about in my previous post.
But there is doubt that ART and Creativity have magical healing powers!
Jody Armijo’s art will be available very soon in our store at POOH’S STORE
In the meantime, here is the preview for THE LIGHT IN THE SHADOW on the Prison System
Prison interior photo credit: Michelle Line
For more information on ARTS in Prison Projects: The William James Prison Arts Project